Monday, May 14, 2007

Pope Benedict XVI on social and economic justice

First off, for anybody who wishes to read an informed, detailed, first-hand account of the Holy Father's Apostolic Journey to Brazil, you can do no better than reading John Allen's daily reports of the trip. Of all the wonderful coverage provided by Allen, building on my previous post regarding Archbishop Romero, I wish to draw attention to Pope Benedict's address to inaugurate the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAM), convened, at his request, in Aparecida, Brazil, as reported by Allen.


The Holy Father has a rare ability to synthesize faith and its bearing on the totality of human life. In this address, avoiding, as he assiduously tends to do, ideology, he critiques both Marxism and capitalism from the perspective of the Gospel. In doing so he goes into more detail than he does in the second part of Deus Caritas Est , particularly number 26, when he addresses Marixist critiques of the Church's charitable outreach and programs. It also puts one in mind of Pope Paul VI's Populorum Progesso the fortieth anniversary of which we marked in March.

"Both capitalism and Marxism," the Holy Father told the assembled episcopate, "promised to point out the path for the creation of just structures, and they declared that these, once established, would function by themselves; they declared that not only would they have no need of any prior individual morality, but that they would promote a communal morality." This "ideological promise has been proved false. The facts have clearly demonstrated it."

For its part, the Holy Father observed, "The Marxist system, where it found its way into government, not only left a sad heritage of economic and ecological destruction, but also a painful destruction of the human spirit. And we can also see the same thing happening in the West, where the distance between rich and poor is growing constantly, and giving rise to a worrying degradation of personal dignity through drugs, alcohol and deceptive illusions of happiness."

According to the Pope, modern globalizing capitalism does not offer a satisfactory response to the needs of society. He went to speak about "the risk of vast monopolies and of treating profit as the supreme value." Addressing their particular situation, the Holy Father said that "the liberal economy of some Latin American countries must take account of equity, because of the ever increasing sectors of society that find themselves oppressed by immense poverty or even despoiled of their own natural resources."

According to Allen, the "pope catalogued a series of what he sees as other dead-end roads, including 'secularism, hedonism, indifferentism, and proselytism by numerous sects, animist religions and new pseudo-religious phenomena.'"

The Pope acknowledged that proposing a religious solution to these systemic problems, like "accenting Christ, the sacraments, and the spiritual life" may seem like, using Allen's analogy, "putting one’s head in the sand."

Could putting the priority on Christ, the sacraments, and the spiritual life "not perhaps be a flight towards emotionalism, towards religious individualism, an abandonment of the urgent reality of the great economic, social and political problems of Latin America and the world, and a flight from reality towards a spiritual world?". Indeed, this is the accusation made by some liberation theologians against traditional forms of Catholic piety.

Such accusations, according to Allen's take on the Holy Father's remarks, presuppose "a vision of reality that marginalizes God."

According to the Holy Father, this just shows that the abject failure of Marxism and the on-going failure of capitalism to live up to its promises stem from the same source, the same "great error": "of the dominant tendencies of the last century, a most destructive error, as we can see from the results of both Marxist and capitalist systems." Both systems, according to this analysis "falsify the notion of reality by detaching it from the foundational and decisive reality, which is God." Continuing to repeat this error, the Holy Father concluded, is "recipe for destruction."

The Holy Father then insists on the Church as independent and not ideologically driven so it can be, to borrow a sociological term, a mediating institution, not a political one, but one that is interested in political matters as they bear on the proper ordering of society and the salvation of souls, which is nothing short of communion with God, with each other, and with the rest of creation, and the very reason we exist.

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